Alpha Centauri is cool. Everyone knows that, right? It's the closest star system to our own, one of the brightest visible stars in the night sky, and it even has at least one planet. As star systems go, that's already pretty cool. Ah, but the coolest thing that we've discovered about the star itself - at least the main one, Alpha Centauri A - is in its atmosphere. And in this case, I mean that quite literally.
René Liseau and a team of astronomers using ESA's Herschel Space Observatory have taken detailed observations of Alpha Cen A, and peered into the star's atmosphere. What they found was a cool layer just above the star's surface, just like we see in the sun. Except that this is the first time anyone's observed this phenomenon in another star.
PHOTOS: Simmering Solar Views from SDO
The visible exterior of the sun is no less complex than Earth's atmosphere, with several different layers each possessing their own different characteristics. The sun's "surface" is known as the photosphere, so named because it's the layer where sunlight is emitted out into space. The photosphere itself, reaching a searing temperature of a little under 6,000 degrees Celsius, isn't actually a true surface per se. It's simply the part of the sun which becomes opaque to light, preventing us from looking any deeper inside it in visible light. The sun being essentially a roiling magnetized ball of hot plasma powered by nuclear reactions, it doesn't have any real surface to speak of.